Denzel Washington is arguably the greatest actor of his generation and one of the best to ever grace the big screen. In an Academy Award-winning career that spans many decades, he has taken on some of the biggest roles and given more iconic moments than we can really count. Denzel Washington movies rank right up there with the best ever.
Here we have the best Denzel Washington movies from throughout his career. There are biopics, sports flicks, heist films, historical epics, and more.
Denzel Washington’s Best Movies
1. Glory (1989)
Though it wasn’t his first movie, Glory is what really put Denzel Washington on the map and rates out as his best movie. He plays Private Silas Trip and shows off the full emotional range in this flick that won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Washington is a man fighting for respect and dignity amidst clearly horrific circumstances in the middle of the Civil War. It’s a tour de force performance from Denzel Washington with the flogging scene among the most emotional and brutal you will see in a film.
2. Malcolm X (1992)
Denzel Washington has done a few different biopics, but this is clearly his best, playing Malcolm X in the eponymously-named movie from director Spike Lee. Washington fully inhabits the role, bringing every piece of charisma, fearlessness, bravado, and humanity to a layered character.
The role earned Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination and the movie brings viewers through the tale of his life, from street hustler to one of the definitive leaders of the Civil Rights movement.
3. Fences (2016)
Fences is based on the play of the same name and features Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson, a former baseball player and now blue-collar working man in the 1950s. The film follows his arc as a man who saw his big-league dreams die and is now struggling with life and family.
Denzel Washington directed this movie as well, his third effort behind the lens. He was nominated for Best Actor and Best Picture and the movie is a tale of a man coming to grips with what it means to be a father and husband as life takes hold.
4. Inside Man (2006)
In Inside Man, Denzel Washington plays Detective Keith Frazier who is up against Clive Owen’s Dalton Russell in a heist movie that had viewers guessing at nearly every turn.
With hallmarks of a traditional bank robbery movie, Inside Man deals with larger themes and pits these two characters against each other in something of a cat-and-mouse affair. We see much of the heist through Washington’s lens in how he works to understand exactly what is happening inside the bank.
5. Crimson Tide (1995)
Crimson Tide was still relatively early in Denzel Washington’s career, though by this point he was well-established as one of the best in the business. He plays Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter opposite Gene Hackman’s Captain Frank Ramsey in the Tony Scott submarine film.
The movie hinges on a transmission the sub receives that puts the crew in a dilemma about whether to launch a nuclear strike with very little information to work with.
It’s a suspenseful, stressful, and insular movie with Denzel Washington working to manage all aspects of a potentially world-altering situation all from the depths of the submarine.
6. The Hurricane (1999)
The Hurricane is another biopic for Denzel Washington who delivers a gripping performance as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. The latter is a wrongfully convicted boxer seeking justice for a triple murder he didn’t commit, but was wrongfully accused. The story was made famous by the Bob Dylan song of the same name and the autobiography The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender To 45472.
Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and the portrayal garnered significant critical acclaim. It takes us through Carter’s life from his days in the ring to his imprisonment to his ultimate release.
7. American Gangster (2007)
American Gangster came out in 2007 and in it, Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, the real-life mafia kingpin and drug lord who ruled Harlem in the 1970s. The movie follows Lucas on his rise through the criminal underworld and how he ultimately came to oversee a drug operation that was above even the New York mafia.
Russell Crowe is on as well as Richie Roberts, the detective investigating the inner workings of Lucas’s operation. He’s the one who ultimately brings the whole thing down.
The interplay between Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe is top-notch with Washington bringing an A+ performance as the hardened, ruthless, and brilliant Lucas.
8. Philadelphia (1993)
American Gangster came out in 2007 and Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, the real-life mafia kingpin and drug lord who ruled Harlem in the 1970s. The movie follows Lucas on his rise through the criminal underworld and how he ultimately came to oversee a drug operation that was above even the New York mafia.
Russell Crowe is on as well as Richie Roberts, the detective who investigates the inner workings of Lucas’s operation and ultimately brings the whole thing down. The interplay between Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe is top-notch with Washington bringing an A+ performance as the hardened, ruthless, and brilliant Lucas.
9. Remember the Titans (2000)
Remember the Titans is another sports movie for Denzel Washington and is based on the story of Herman Boone who works to integrate the T. C. Williams High School football team in 1971.
Denzel Washington is excellent in the role of Boone who has to deal with the racist overtones of the area as well as the interpersonal dynamics of the team itself.
From a feel-good sports movie, this one hits all of the right notes and Washington is phenomenal as a coach wrestling with his own ideas and strategies as well as the greater social framework.
10. Flight (2012)
In 2012, Flight earned Denzel Washington yet another Academy Award nomination, this one for the portrayal of Captain William “Whip” Whitaker. He’s an alcoholic pilot who is able to “land” a distressed plane in the most horrific of circumstances.
The movie then follows the actual fallout of the moment and of Whitaker’s own personal demons when it comes to alcohol abuse. Denzel Washington brings significant emotional gravitas to this role about a man whose own heroism ends up putting him and his struggles under a terrible spotlight.
11. Training Day (2001)
King Kong ain’t got s@#$ on this Denzel Washington performance from 2001 that had him playing narcotics officer Alonzo Harris opposite Ethan Hawke. The movie follows the two along for a single day, mostly tailing Hawke’s character who slowly comes to realize he’s aligned with the worst kind of dude.
Denzel Washington is the definitive big bad in this Antoine Fuqua movie, even referencing as much near the end. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and it was much-deserved considering the arc we’re taken on with the character.
It’s a fantastic performance and every bit as chilling to watch him in action the second, third (or even fourth) time around.
Man on Fire (2004)
At its core, Man on Fire is a pretty simple movie about a man looking for a kidnapped girl. But there’s signifcantly more happening here with Denzel Washington’s John Creasy on his own redemption journey as he brutally makes his way through the Mexican criminal underworld.
He’s tasked with first protecting, then actually rescuing Dakota Fanning’s Lupita character who is caught in an abduction. Denzel Washington is calm and ruthless here, dispatching everyone on the way in an effort to bring the girl home.